Stories of Survivorship
Mary Ann Gunderman, a healthy 73-year old grandmother, was vacationing at the Cape last July, and enjoying one of her favorite pastimes – playing in the ocean waves. She misjudged one and it hit her in the back of her head. That night she suffered terrible shooting pains in her face. Pain that was not relieved by taking Tylenol.
Jesseca has had many small non-cancerous lumps (adenomas) in her breasts, so she was used to going to Smilow Cancer Hospital to be monitored every six months with mammograms and ultrasound tests. When she felt a lump in her left breast in November 2013, she fully expected to be told she had another adenoma. But this time, the radiologist told her something different.
Marjorie had survived cancer before. Back in 1998 when she lived in Flushing, New York, she was diagnosed with Stage 3B cervical cancer and was treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy followed by a hysterectomy. Last October, Marjorie decided to take the train to New York, followed by a subway ride to Queens, to visit a friend. The next morning, she awoke with a pain in her outer breast. She thought it was a strained muscle from going up and down the subway stairs. After two mammograms and two ultrasounds, she met Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Dr. Chagpar told her that there were two masses in the outer side of her right breast.
Raffaella Zanuttini’s busy life as a Professor of Linguistics at Yale, as a wife, and as a mother of two boys, 12 and 15, does not leave her much spare time. So when her February mammogram showed more calcifications lined up in a suspicious pattern and the nurses at the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital recommended she have a biopsy, she was not ready to act. After having the biopsy done, Rafaella was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). She made an appointment with Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Alberto Centeno had already been through a bout of stomach cancer in 2008. But in 2013, new symptoms brought him to his local ear, nose, and throat doctor, who scheduled an appointment for him with Dr. Benjamin Judson, Assistant Professor of Surgery (Otolaryngology) and head and neck surgeon at Yale Cancer Center. Alberto’s diagnosis: throat cancer.
Sharon’s difficulties breathing and swallowing brought her to see her ear, nose, and throat doctor in Waterbury. An ultrasound found a cancerous growth on her voicebox (larynx), and she was referred to the Head and Neck Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Eric Bowles was 16 when he noticed what he thought was a canker sore on the side of his tongue. Over the next month the sore gradually grew, but only bothered him if directly touched. During routine x-rays at the dentist’s office, Eric asked them to be careful since he had a spot on his tongue that was sensitive. The dentist took one look and called an oral surgeon who met with Eric the next day and performed a biopsy of the lesion. Everyone was shocked when the diagnosis came back as squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.
When Wendy McCabe’s dentist recommended that she have a biopsy done on a growth spotted at the base of her tongue during a routine cleaning, she didn’t think anything of it. However, when the results came back as cancer, she was shocked. Her first reaction was to ask, “Am I going to die?” Her second reaction was to assemble her support network and take action.
Last December, when John found himself exhausted after doing only ten laps in the Y pool, he thought he had the flu. Tests showed something different. His blood counts were way down. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed he had another cancer: acute myeloid leukemia.
Jeanne Czel went from enjoying retirement and playing golf in a benefit tournament in North Carolina, to a month later undergoing what would be one of the most difficult years of her life. It started with an uncomfortable feeling in her chest that she attributed to heart burn or acid reflux, although she had never experienced either before. She was still not feeling right, but had no alarming symptoms such as pain, or weight loss. Normally a very active person, when she started noticing loss of energy, she made an appointment to meet with her gastroenterologist. On July 21, 2011, after undergoing blood work, an MRI and a CT scan, Jeanne received a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer; it had metastasized to her liver and duodenum.
When Tom Regan learned that he had prostate cancer, it brought back memories of his father, who 20 years before had lost his life to the disease. Tom assumed that he was destined for the same fate.
When 14-month-old Luke McDermott was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, his doctor told Luke’s parents that he would try to save the baby’s life, eye and vision. “That’s the order,” he said. “If we have to, we will remove his eye to save his life.”